Miss Dayton heard the name, but Randy who was at the moment chatting with Nina Irwin, did not.
The young man in faultless evening dress made his way across the room to Aunt Marcia, then to Miss Dayton, then, with a merry twinkle in his eyes he turned to Randy who, still, talking with Nina, was unaware of his approach.
"Miss Randy," said a familiar voice, and Randy started, turned, then with eyes expressing her surprise and delight she said,
"O Jotham, truly you cannot guess how glad I am to see you."
"And do you think I can tell you with what pleasure I have looked forward to this evening?" Jotham answered.
"I have been longing to call upon you, but my days and evenings have been so completely occupied with study, that this is my first bit of recreation since I came to Boston in the fall, and until I received Miss Dayton's invitation, I did not know where I might find you."
Then Jotham was presented to Nina who in turn led him to a group of her friends where, surrounded by a bevy of bright faced girls, he seemed as much at ease as if his life had consisted of naught but social pleasures.
Randy turned, and meeting Helen's gaze she said,
"It seems to me that Jotham looks like a prince to-night."
"He has a charming manner," said Miss Dayton, "and I have always thought that he possessed a noble mind, that priceless gift which only One can give. Coronets can be purchased, but who can barter for true worth?"
In the shadow cast by a statue and leaning against its pedestal, stood Polly Lawrence, her flushed cheeks vieing with the scarlet gauze which she wore, a most unpleasant expression upon her small face, while her nervous fingers plucked to pieces a red rose which she had taken from her bodice and she angrily tapped the floor with her satin slipper. And what had occurred to mar the evening's pleasure for Polly Lawrence?
Merely the fact that she was not the only girl in the room to receive attention, and also that she had chosen a gaudy costume for the occasion, and was conscious that her choice had been unwise.
Shallow by nature, and without keen perception, she yet possessed sufficient good sense to see that she had not impressed her friends with the magnificence of her apparel, and her vanity received a thrust when a friend said to her,
"How sweet Randy Weston looks in her white gown and ribbons! One would know that she would never wear a gaudy dress."
Polly had made no reply, but in exasperation she thought,
"Every one admires Randy. I do believe that they would think she looked sweet in white calico."
There was, after all, a bit of excuse for Polly. Reared by her aunt, a woman with a character as shallow as that of her niece, Polly's vanity had never been curbed, rather it had been encouraged. She was allowed to choose her own costumes, her aunt rarely venturing a suggestion; and the milliners and dressmakers, reading the girl's vain character, encouraged Polly to purchase that which was most expensive, regardless as to whether it might be suitable or becoming.
Furs, designed apparently for a dowager, at once became her own, if only she could be assured that no girl of her acquaintance owned a set as costly, and upon all occasions it appeared to be her intention to wear more jewelry than any other person present.
Later, when all had repaired to the dining-room, Polly's displeasure was somewhat appeased when she found herself placed beside Peggy's brother, who was a thoroughly good fellow, and ever a gentleman, therefore he immediately proceeded to make himself very agreeable to Polly, although had he been given his choice of a companion he would most surely have chosen quite a different girl.
Beside Randy sat Jotham who declared himself to be "as happy as a king," and his tutor, the young professor, seemed equally charmed beside Helen Dayton, with whom he was exchanging reminiscences of college days.
"Do you remember a certain girl, Miss Dayton," he asked, "who on a memorable class day gave the pleasure of her company to a diffident student who in ecstasy at playing escort to the lovely girl and her dignified Aunt Marcia, nearly forgot all which he ever knew, managing only to stammer through an effort at conversation which must have completely bored her?"
"Pardon me, the girl could not truly have been bored," Miss Dayton replied, "else it would not be true that to-night she remembers every event of that delightful day with a pleasure which she has never found words to describe."
"Is that really true?" he asked, but other voices making a merry din allowed the answer to be heard only by the one for whom it was intended, and soon Helen was leading the conversation into channels in which all might take part, causing the gifted ones to show their sparkling wit, and coaxing the shy guests to talk, who would otherwise have been silent.
Miss Dayton possessed in a wonderful degree, the ability to help each person present to appear at his best, with the result that all were made happy and glad to proclaim that no home boasted as sweet a young hostess as Helen Dayton, or as grand a mistress as gracious Aunt Marcia, who dearly loved young people, and who was never happier than when in their company.
Peggy Atherton, aware that she was becomingly attired in her blue silk and forget-me-nots, was doing her best to coax a diffident youth to join in the conversation, and at the same time naughtily enjoying his blushing answers to her bright speeches.
Randy saw Peggy's roguish eyes, and wondered what it might be which so amused her, when a pause in the general conversation allowed the following to be heard,—
"Were you at the last symphony?" Peggy asked sweetly.
"Yes,—no,—that is I think I was, but I can't quite remember," was the halting answer.
"Oh, you would remember if you were really there," persisted Peggy, "because the program was extra fine and the solos were something to dream of."
"Yes, yes the music was er,—very er,—musical, and the soloist, that is, the one who sang a solo, was er,—the only one who er—sang alone, I believe."
Randy stifled a wild desire to laugh, for she saw plainly that Peggy was teasing the youth, who in his extreme diffidence, was appearing as if he were a simpleton, which was indeed far from the truth.
Peggy well knew that he was a bright young student, and she secretly admired his intellect, but she was an inveterate tease, and it amused her to see him blush, and to hear his faltering answers.
She did not mean to hurt him; only a thoughtless mirth tempted her to torment him; but to Randy, Peggy's conduct seemed very cruel, and she determined to save the luckless youth from further discomfort. Turning to Jotham, expecting as usual to find in him an ally, Randy said,
"I saw you talking with Cyril Langdon just before we left the drawing-room. He is ill at ease, because Peggy is teasing him, but when he chooses to talk he is very interesting. Do make Peggy stop, she is spoiling his evening. Ask him,—oh ask him about the Tech. athletics or anything, Jotham, can't you?"
Jotham, as usual, glad of an opportunity to please Randy, succeeded in drawing Cyril into a conversation which proved interesting to all, and made the boy forget his discomfiture.
Peggy was aware of a vague wish that she had been more merciful, and resolved another time to help, rather than hinder a conversation.
Later, when the gay little party returned to the drawing-room, Randy begged Miss Dayton to favor her friends with some music. Helen, ever ready to give pleasure, seated herself at the piano, Professor Marden standing beside her, ostensibly to turn her music, but in truth to watch her graceful fingers upon the keys.
Her audience was enthusiastic, and not to be satisfied with one selection. Helen smilingly acceded to their requests, and when she arose from the piano she was greeted with generous praise.
Among the happy faces Randy saw one less bright than the others. It was Polly Lawrence, and Randy wondered what had caused a frown upon the usually smiling face. "It would never do to ask her why she isn't enjoying my party," she said to herself, "but I do wish she looked happier. I am so happy this evening, that I wish everyone else to enjoy every moment of it. I believe I'll ask her to sing for us. She sings nicely, and perhaps she would be pleased to, if she knew we wished it."
Accordingly, Randy hastened to Polly who was standing apart from the guests, and looking as if in anything but a pleasant mood. Her face brightened, however, when told that it would be a pleasure to hear her sing, and after a little urging, she consented. She possessed a light soprano voice which had been carefully trained, and when she chose, she could sing most acceptably.
On this especial evening, it pleased her to do her best, and she delighted her friends with a number of songs, for which Miss Dayton played the accompaniments. Polly received unstinted praise for her singing, and she therefore, upon her return, told her aunt that the party was a success.
At the end of the drawing-room, Nina Irwin was merrily chatting with a number of her friends, and Polly hastened to join the group, where she was soon laughing as gaily as the others, and apparently as happy.
Near the centre of the room Miss Dayton and Randy, Jotham and Professor Marden stood, evidently engaged in the discussion of a most interesting subject, and as Aunt Marcia joined them, she was asked to give her opinion.
"What has been my greatest pleasure in life?" She smiled as she repeated the question, and turned for a moment and looked long and earnestly at her portrait, then she said,
"When that picture was painted and was first seen by my friends, some one remarked,
"'Oh, how dearly above all else Marcia prizes a gay life!'
"I have always enjoyed social pleasures," she continued, "but if I were to say that one thing, above all else, gave me true delight, I should say, that to make others happy had ever been my greatest joy."
"Pardon me, if I venture to say that that is the charm which has preserved your beauty," said the young tutor, gravely bowing to Aunt Marcia, who, sweeping a low courtesy, acknowledged the courtly speech which was uttered in such evident sincerity.
"And, in return let me say, that the young man who thinks it worth while to pay a graceful compliment to one who is quite old enough to be his grandmother, proves himself to be a worthy descendant of his talented father, a perfect gentleman of the old school," replied Aunt Marcia; and Helen saw the quick flush of pleasure on the professor's cheek. His love for his father amounted almost to worship, and Aunt Marcia could have chosen no word of praise which would have moved him so deeply, or pleased him more surely, than to thus have declared him, to be a "worthy descendant."
Other young people joined this central group, and Nina at the piano played softly a dreamy nocturne which seemed a gentle accompaniment to the conversation.
In the shadow of a tall jar of ferns Jotham was looking at Randy, and thinking that while the white party gown was very charming, it was also true that Randy at home in a pink sunbonnet had been well worth looking at.
"How serious you look," said Randy, "are you thinking that to-night's pleasure will mean many hours of hard study to-morrow, Jotham?"
"No, indeed," he answered with a laugh, "I am not allowing a thought of study to mar to-night's enjoyment. I was just wondering, Randy, why some girls are very dependent for a good appearance, upon what they wear, while one girl whom I know, can look equally well in a party gown or a gingham dress and sunbonnet."
Randy blushed as she said, "O, Jotham, has Professor Marden been teaching you to pay compliments, along with your other studies?"
"Indeed, no," was the answer. "He meant every word which he said to Miss Dayton's aunt, as truly as I meant what I said to you, and Randy," he continued, "you and I have been here in the city all winter, have seen its life and stir and bustle, and you have seen much of the social side of the problem which is puzzling me. Is it so much better, this city life, than the home life in the country? There, every busybody is interested in his neighbor; here, we are met on every hand by strangers who do not know, or wish to know anything in regard to us. Here a hundred strangers in the great railway stations are objects of but little interest. Randy, do you realize the commotion which one arrival with a hand-bag causes at the little station at home? I tell you, Randy, one is large in a little country town, and small, so small in a great city."
"One is never small, wherever he may be, in the hearts of his friends, Jotham," was the sweet reply, "but in regard to home, there is no place like it. I enjoy all the brightness, the study, the fine pictures which I have seen and the rare music which I have heard; but, Jotham, I am at heart a country girl, and while I like to be here, if I were to choose 'for always,' as little Prue says, I'd choose the mountains and the streams at home.
"I shall not leave behind the knowledge which I have gained. I shall be all the happier because of it, but home is home, isn't it, Jotham?"
"Indeed it is," answered Jotham, heartily.
And now the carriages were beginning to arrive, and in twos and threes the guests departed, assuring Randy and Helen that the evening had been one of rare pleasure.
Jotham and his tutor left together, promising their charming hostesses that they should soon find leisure for a call. And when the last guest had departed, and Randy, Helen, and Aunt Marcia looked about the flower scented rooms, Randy said, with a happy sigh,
"Oh, what a lovely, lovely party! I was sorry to see them go. I am not even tired. No one could be tired during such an evening."
"Dear Randy," said Helen, "it was indeed a pretty party, and well worth my effort to make it a success. You were an ideal little hostess, Randy, you did your part to perfection."
"Why, I was only just myself. I was not at all fine," said Randy in amazement.
"That is just the secret of your success," Helen replied. "Always be just your own true self, and no one in all the world would ask for more."
TIMOTHEUS AND HIS NEIGHBORS
"Whao! Whao! I tell ye. Be ye deef, or be ye jest contrary?
"I b'lieve them critters 'd like ter see me wait 'til June fer plaoughin'."
The ill-matched pair came to a standstill, and so listless was their bearing, that one would say that having decided to halt, nothing would induce them to again draw the plough.
"There, ye can rest naow, fer a spell, 'til ye git yer wind, an' then I'll set ye at it agin."
One of the horses snorted derisively, but Jabez Brimblecom cared little for that. He drew from his hip pocket a large envelope, and opening the letter which it contained, adjusted his spectacles and laboriously read it for the third time.
"Wal, all I got ter say 'baout it is, that it's pooty full er big words, an' flourishes, but biled daown, it 'maounts ter jist this; Sabriny's sot her mind on makin' us an' everlastin' long visit. I shan't hev ter stand much on't, however; I'll be aout doors most of the time, when I have ter, an' I vum I'll be aout all the rest of the time because I choose ter.
"Sabriny's a team, an' so's Mis' Brimblecom. They never did pull together. Not but that they pull 'nough, only it's allus the opposite ways. I don't stay in doors much arter she arrives! No, Siree!
"G'lang there! G'lang I say!
"Well, fust ye won't stop, an' then ye won't budge! I vaow I never see a pair er critters like ye, 'cept my wife an' cousin Sabriny!"
When at last the pair concluded to move, they started forward with a most surprising lurch, and Jabez Brimblecom found his hands full in guiding the plough, and the two horses who, having decided to bestir themselves, tramped diligently back and forth, leaving the long rows of furrowed earth as evidence of their willingness to work when their ambition was aroused.
Again they stopped to rest and again Mr. Brimblecom fumbled in his pocket for the envelope, but he did not take it out.
"Why didn't she write the letter 'stead er gittin' that husband er hern ter write fer her? I'd 'nough rather she'd told Mis' Brimblecom she wuz comin', 'stead er leavin' me ter tell her. She'll be mad's a hornet, an' I vaow I won't blame her.
"G'lang there! Wal, I'll be switched if she isn't comin' daown ter the bars naow. Wonder what's up?"
"Jabez! Jabez! Ja—bez!"
"All right, I'll be there," was the answer, but in an aside he remarked apparently to the horses,
"'F I git my courage up, I'll tell her 'baout Sabriny naow and be done with it;" but his bravery was not put to the test. Before he could reach the bars where his wife stood waiting, she cried out vehemently, "Jabez Brimblecom, what do ye think? Mis' Hodgkins used ter know yer cousin Sabriny when they both wuz girls, an' she says she's jest got a letter a sayin' that Sabriny's comin' here ter make er long visit. She's goin' ter spend two weeks with Mis' Hodgkins, an' all the rest er the summer with us. Jabez, I'd rather heerd of er cyclone a hittin' us, fer ye well know that there'll be no peace 'til she packs an' starts fer home."
"I know it, I know it," Jabez answered, with feeling.
"I got er letter in my pocket, an' I been hatin' ter show it to ye, but mebbe ye might as well read it and make what ye can out'n it."
Mrs. Brimblecom wiped her glasses and commenced to read the letter.
"Naow what's the use'n his talkin' baout the 'wonderful mountain air,' an' the 'sparklin' springs,' an' er sayin' that they'll do such a sight fer Sabriny?
"We know what the air is, an' fer that matter, so does she; she's allus lived here. An' as ter the springs; she never so much as looked at 'em when she was here before, but she spent a lot er time tellin' me how she couldn't sleep on my corded beds. She said she had ter sleep on springs an' I was baout tired a hearin' tell of our short comin's; an' I told her if springs was necessary to her well-bein', she'd no doubt be best off ter hum where she'd been braggin' she had plenty of 'em."
"I didn't blame ye fer gittin' riled," said Jabez, "but I s'pose we'll hev ter welcome her, even if we're driven ter speed her departur;" and they both laughed good-naturedly, and mentally decided to make the best of the self-invited guest.
"Wal, she ain't here yit," said Mrs. Brimblecom, "and the fust two weeks she spends with Mis' Hodgkins, an' p'raps by the time she arrives here, I'll be cooled daown 'nough ter be kind er perlite, though I shan't say, 'I'm glad ter see ye Sabriny,' fer that'd be a lie."
"I shall say, 'I hope I see ye well, Sabriny,' fer massy knows I wouldn't want her ter be sick fer ye ter wait on," remarked Jabez, with a twinkle in his eye.
"Wal," he continued, "I must git this piece er plaoughin' done. I can't set daown an' luxooriate an' wait 'til we see Sabriny acomin'."
With a loud "G'lang there," he aroused his placid horses, and across the fields they sped, and Mrs. Brimblecom, with the letter in her hand, hastened back to the house where, after placing the large envelope under the cushion of her rocking chair, she busied herself with household tasks.
Later, when she felt that she had earned a few leisure moments, she drew the letter from its hiding-place and sat down to study it.
"'F I hadn't hid ye under the cushion, like as not when I wanted ter read ye, ye'd be lost," she remarked.
A few moments she read in silence, then her disgust moved her to speak.
"Sabriny feels better in a 'higher altitude,'—well, why doesn't she git one, whatever 'tis, an' git inter it an' stay there, 'stead a pesterin' me with her visits." Mrs. Brimblecom perused a few more lines, when again she spoke.
"She seems ter 'have little energy,'—wal, I don't want ter be mean, but I can't help a hopin' that she won't gain any. Sabriny without energy would be er sight that'd cheer me. Her tremenjous vim nearly wore me aout last season. Ef she'd jest manage ter leave her energy ter hum, I do'no's I'd mind her comin'."
While good Mrs. Brimblecom was studying the letter, Mrs. Hodgkins had sallied forth to tell the great news, that the visitor was expected, and as she passed the village store, old Mr. Simpkins, in the doorway, was taking leave of Silas Barnes.
"Yes, sir, he's a great feller, he is. There ain't another as 'riginal as he is on the globe, I bet ye. He's done a lot er bright things time an' time 'n again, but this time beats the other times all holler."
"What's he done naow?" asked Barnes.
"Hey?" remarked Mr. Simpkins, with his hand at his ear.
"I say, what's he done naow?" roared Barnes.
"Oh, I ain't tellin' yit. Even his brother Joel don't know, an' won't know this week, but next week the taown will be 'baout wild with the news er what Timotheus has done. Ye'll be 'bliged ter wait 'til then," said Mr. Simpkins.
"I guess I'll be able to stand it," remarked Silas Barnes in an undertone.
"Hey? Did ye say ye'd understand it? Wal, I ain't sure whether ye will er not. It's most too much fer me," Mr. Simpkins replied, as he made his way cautiously down the rickety steps.
"Fer goodness sakes, what's Timotheus been a doin' naow, I wonder," muttered Mrs. Hodgkins. "I shan't ask, an' be told ter wait, as Silas Barnes was.
"I'd like ter know one thing," she continued, "an' that is whether the boy is 'specially bright as his father thinks, or whether he's a little lackin' as I think, an' I do'no who's ter decide."
Up the road she trudged, and as she turned the corner, a most surprising sight caused her to stop and ejaculate. "Land er the livin'! What ails him naow?"
Timotheus Simpkins, unaware that he was observed, was executing a most fantastic jig in the middle of the road.
"I've did it naow, I bet ye 'n even Joel 'll have ter admit I'm a sight bigger'n anybody 'n taown. Good-bye ter farmin' and hooray fer literatoor, I say."
"Wal, be ye losin' yer senses, er clean gone crazy?" asked Mrs. Hodgkins in disgust.
Timotheus paused in his wild pirouette, and gave Mrs. Hodgkins a withering glance.
"It ain't wuth while ter explain Mis' Hodgkins, bein's I don't feel ye'd be able ter' understand the magnitood er what I've done."
"Dew tell!" remarked Mrs. Hodgkins with fine contempt, "I hope the taown is still big 'nough ter hold ye, Mr. Simpkins."
Her irony was wasted, however.
"I'm glad ye reelize the time's come ter 'dress me as 'Mr.,'" remarked Timotheus, and Mrs. Hodgkins vouchsafed no answer, but hurried along the road, "afeared ter speak," as she afterward said, "lest I'd say a deal more'n I orter."
In the long drawing-room Randy and Helen Dayton were chatting merrily with Jotham and Professor Marden when Aunt Marcia joined them, expressing pleasure in being at home to share the call.
In two weeks the private school would close, when Randy would say "good-bye" to her city home and the two dear friends who had entertained her, to the schoolmates of whom she had become so fond, and then she would be speeding over the rails every mile of which would take her nearer home, the dear country home. As Jotham was to leave the city at the same time, he asked the pleasure of accompanying Randy upon the journey, and his offer was gladly accepted.
"And have you heard the latest news from home, Randy?" asked Jotham. Without awaiting a reply he continued,
"Timotheus Simpkins has 'blossomed aout,' as his father expresses it and a specimen of his 'literatoor' is printed in the county paper. Father sent me a marked copy, and if you like I will read the article."
"I should indeed like to hear it," said Aunt Marcia; "from what Randy says of him I think Timotheus must be an unique character."
"He is truly an odd specimen," said Helen, "I cannot imagine what he would write."
"Read it, do read it," said Randy, and Jotham read the following:
"Thort is the gratest thing that has ever been thort of. I don't know of eny thing bigger than thort that I have thort of, less twas riginalty, an reely thats thort. When I'm busy thinkin' thorts I aint apt ter have my mind on eny thing else mostly. Most of the books what I have read I think was writ without enough thort. Take the almanic; if Id writ the almanic whare they say, 'bout this time expect rain,' Id a said, bout this time expect weather. Id a put some thort on the matter and Id a knowd that yed natraly have weather er some kind, cause theres allus weather round about these parts, but most folks havent no power ter have thort, an thats why theres so few folks that is great. I mean ter spend my time in thort an' casionally do a little ploughing. I thort so continooal that I had ter leave school in order ter git time ter think in, so havin learnt all there was ter learn, I left school ter the fellers as thort so little that they didn't need much time fer it an now I shall put on paper such thort as most folks can tackle, but some er my thort is so thortful that most any body couldn't understand it, an so no more until Ive thort again.
"Yours thortfully TIMOTHEUS SIMPKINS."
"Poor Timotheus," said Helen Dayton.
"And why 'poor Timotheus'?" asked Professor Marden. "With his stock of egotism, I think the fellow must be happier than the average man. I know of no one who considers himself the only thinker in the universe, except this young Simpkins. He must, indeed, be supremely happy."
"And the joke is," said Jotham, "that he received a small sum for the article, and a personal letter from the editor. The money, (I believe it was the immense sum of two dollars,) pleased Timotheus, but the letter puzzled him extremely. He considered the article to be a serious, as well as a lofty effort, whereas the editor evidently supposed it to be humorous, and believed the unique spelling to be a part of the fun. Timotheus told my father that 'the money showed that his "literatoor" was wuth something but that the editor man must be dull ter think that it was anything but a tremenjous hefty comp'sition.'
"Old Mr. Simpkins considers Timotheus a prodigy, and seems to feel contempt for his elder son, Joel, who as he expressed it, 'ain't intellectooal like Timotheus,' and Joel usually retaliates by saying, 'It's lucky one son er the Simpkins family has got jest plain common sense.'
"The paper is not published in our town," continued Jotham, "it is a county paper, and its editor and publisher lives in a distant village, so that, unacquainted with the Simpkins family, he supposed Timotheus to be a would-be humorist, little dreaming that he was offending a genius, by seeing fun where fun was not intended."
"Timotheus, however, had the joy of feeling that his literary work had a market value," said Professor Marden, with a laugh.
Randy and Helen were much amused, but although Aunt Marcia's eyes twinkled, she said,
"Poor boy! I wonder when and how he will outgrow his egotism? There surely is no chance for him to learn until he is made to realize how little he knows, and who would care to attempt the task of opening his eyes?"
"There are a plenty of persons in our town," said Jotham, "who have repeatedly tried to enlighten him, but they have been obliged to relinquish the effort. It is useless to tell him that talented people think it necessary to obtain a fine education. He only insists that he is a genius, and that there is nothing left for him to learn."
"We must not worry for Timotheus," said Helen, "he is as happy as one could wish; rather we should remember the old adage, 'Where ignorance is bliss, etc.'" and the little company agreed that perhaps after all, Timotheus Simpkins should be congratulated rather than commiserated.
When the callers arose to depart, Jotham said,
"Then on two weeks from to-day, Randy, I may call for you, and together we will travel toward home?"
"Yes, oh yes," Randy answered, an odd little note in her voice, "and how hard it will be to say good-bye to these two dear friends, how delightful to know that late in the afternoon I shall greet the dear ones whose faces I so long to see. How I wish you both were going back with me, then I should not say good-bye at all."
"And since we cannot accompany you," said Aunt Marcia, laying her hand gently upon Randy's arm, "we count ourselves fortunate that we are going to our summer home soon after you leave us. You have been a ray of sunlight in our home, Randy, and we could not easily or quickly become used to your absence."
"Oh, is it unkind to be glad that you will miss me?" asked Randy looking quickly from Aunt Marcia to Helen. "I am puzzled, for I know that I would do anything to make you happy; then why, when I love you so truly, am I glad to have you grieved when I go?"
She glanced at Professor Marden who, while apparently answering her questioning, looked fixedly at Helen Dayton as he said, "That is not an unkind thought, Miss Randy; if we can be assured that when absent we are missed, we are then doubly sure that our presence is welcome."
"No one should have so faint a heart as to for a moment doubt that he is welcome," said Aunt Marcia, receiving in return a grateful smile from Professor Marden, who bowed low over Miss Dayton's hand, and then with Jotham walked briskly down the avenue.
"Professor Marden is a most charming young man," said Aunt Marcia, as she stood at the window watching his receding figure. "He is very like his father, who was once my most valued friend."
Helen turned quickly to look at her aunt, expecting that she was about to tell more of the elder Marden, but she had left the window and stood by a large jar of roses, rearranging the blossoms with infinite care, and when she again spoke it was not of the Mardens, father or son, but of their engagements and the weather for the morrow.
At last the long anticipated hour had arrived and Randy and Jotham were speeding over the country toward home.
Nina Irwin, Peggy Atherton, Polly Lawrence and a host of their schoolmates had, on the day before bidden Randy an affectionate good-bye. They had exchanged promises in regard to correspondence, had vowed never to forget each other, and Nina had slipped a little parcel into Randy's hand, saying,
"Just a little gift, dear Randy. Open it when the train has started and you are on your way home."
"O Nina, I shall prize your gift, whatever it may be," said Randy. "How can I wait until to-morrow to see it? And I have something to tell you," she continued.
"I had a letter from home yesterday, and mother says that I must be sure to give you her invitation to spend a few weeks of the summer with us. She tells me to remind you that our home is a farm-house, but that it is large and comfortable, and that the welcome awaiting you is very cordial.
"Father says, 'Tell Miss Nina that I am anxious to see my daughter's dear friend of whom she writes such pleasant things.' Even Aunt Prudence says, 'I think I shall approve of Miss Irwin,' and little Prue says, 'Tell the Nina girl I want her to come!'"
"There was never a sweeter invitation, Randy Weston. Of course I'll come," said Nina, "I wouldn't miss it for the world. Just a farm-house! Why, Randy, that is half the charm. Haven't I been to hotels summer after summer, but I never stayed over night in a farm-house. I shall enjoy every hour of my stay with you.
"Tell your mother how gladly I accept her invitation, and tell Prue that the 'Nina girl' has no little sister, and that she is very eager to see Randy's little Prue."
On the morning of the journey Aunt Marcia folded Randy in a warm embrace as she said,
"Dear child promise me that you will come again, thus only, can I see you depart;" and Randy had promised at some future time to again visit Boston.
With Helen she had entered the coupe and together they rode to the station.
Jotham had been obliged to relinquish the pleasure of calling for Randy and had written to say that, accompanied by his tutor, he would meet her at the depot, so it happened that Jotham and Randy, after saying good-bye to their two friends, rode out from the station and into the glad sunshine on their homeward way, and Helen, her beautiful eyes filled with tears, entered the carriage followed by Professor Marden who seated himself beside her.
"Come and lunch with Aunt Marcia and me" she had said, "then I shall feel that while one dear friend departs, another remains."
Upon entering the car, Jotham had turned over the seat opposite the one which they had chosen, and upon it they laid wraps, bags, a box of candy, and Helen's last gift to Randy, a great cluster of roses.
Randy had enjoyed her sojourn in the city with all the enthusiasm of her nature, but now her face was turned toward home, and with a smiling face she said to Jotham,
"I have you for company, and the day is sunny, I have my gifts, too, and best of all, I shall soon see every one at home. O, Jotham, are you as glad as I am, to-day?"
There was a suspicious tremor in his voice as he replied,
"I am every bit as happy as you are, Randy; I have worked very hard this winter and been cheered by Professor Marden's genuine interest in me. He has been kindness itself, and the letters from home have been a great comfort. I am already looking forward to next season's study, and in the meantime I shall enjoy the summer vacation. I'll show father that while he is kind enough to allow me to spend my winter in study, I have not forgotten how to help in the summer work upon the farm."
"Look, Randy," continued Jotham, "the little towns and villages look more like home as we ride away from the city."
Randy looked from the window and noticed that the houses were farther and farther apart, the broad fields in which cows were grazing, the winding rivers dazzling in the sunlight, the hills blue and hazy and over all the blue sky and fleecy clouds.
When Randy opened the little parcel containing Nina's gift, she was delighted to find a photograph, encased in a silver frame of exquisite workmanship. Nina's card was fastened to the frame with a bit of ribbon, and upon the card appeared this message: "You now see that I can be with you always."
"Nina knew that I would rather have her picture than any other thing," said Randy.
How swiftly the hours flew! At noon the car was very warm, for it was late in May, and it seemed almost like June sunshine which lay in long bars upon the red plush seats.
Later, the air became cooler, and Randy had tired of the flying landscape until aroused by Jotham, who exclaimed,
"Look out, Randy! This is the next town to ours."
"Do you mean that we are so near home?" asked Randy, with sparkling eyes. Just at this point the brakeman's voice announced the station, and proved that Jotham had spoken truly.
How beautiful were the orchards, with their blossom-laden trees! "Ah home is home after all," thought Randy.
* * * * *
As she stepped from the car a shrill little voice cried,
"O Randy, my Randy! I thought you'd never come, but you did."
Randy held her little sister closely, and laid her cheek against the soft curls. Then she turned to her father and saw a wealth of love in his eyes as he said,
"Now the home will be complete. It has been 'bout half empty with ye away, Randy. I'm glad ye're home again. I ain't able to say how glad, an' Jotham, my boy, I'm glad to see ye, too. Ah, here's yer father. I haven't a right ter a minute more er yer time."
With eager questioning Randy asked, "And mother and Aunt Prudence?"
"Oh they're feelin' pretty spry now the day's come fer ye to arrive. They're full er preparations fer yer home-comin', an'—"
"An' the big cake has got pink frostin' on top of it, an' my dolly has got on her best dress 'cause she knew you was comin', an' I've kept askin' Aunt Prudence all day what time it was, an' how long it would be 'fore you'd be here, an' Tabby's got a ribbon on her neck, an' the house an' barn has been painted, an' the cars an' engine ride behind our barn now, an' I guess that's all," said Prue, with a sigh, as if regretting that there was so little news.
"Why that is a great deal of news," said Randy, "how did you remember it all?"
"Oh, I've been savin' it up, purpose to tell you when you comed," said Prue.
As they drove along the shady road toward home, they passed Jabez Brimblecom who thus accosted Randy:—
"Wal, wal I'm glad ter see yer home agin, Randy, or must I say Miss Weston, since ye've been to Boston?"
"Oh please call me Randy, or I shall think you are a stranger, instead of an old friend."
"Wal, Randy it is then, an' glad I be ter hear it. My wife said when ye went off that she knew ye, an' that Randy'd be Randy anywhere 'n she's 'baout right 's usual."
Every one whom they met had a word of greeting for Randy, until she exclaimed,
"Oh, it is almost worth while to go away, if everyone is to be so glad of my return."
"And we're the gladdest of all," said Prue.
"Indeed we are," said Mr. Weston, "an' now, Randy, do ye see two women at the corner of the wall? I tell ye, they couldn't wait 'til ye arrived at the door."
Mr. Weston stopped Snowfoot, and Randy jumped from the wagon, and running to her mother, threw her arms about her neck.
"O Randy, child, this is the first day of real happiness since ye started fer Boston. Not but what we've gotten on pretty well, but ye left a space, so ter speak, a space that nothin' could fill. Well, ye're here now, an' we'll find it easy to be cheerful."
"And you're glad to see me, too, Aunt Prudence?" asked Randy, wondering if so dignified a person would like a kiss.
"Glad!" was the answer, "that's no name fer it," and she fervently kissed Randy's cheek. "I must say, ef ye'd stayed away a week longer yer ma an' me would been 'bout ready ter give up housekeepin'. I tell ye, Randy, we shall all feel nigh on ter giddy, now ye've arrived."
The remarkable sight of Aunt Prudence kissing Randy made a great impression upon Prue.
"If I goed to Boston, Aunt Prudence, would you kiss me when I comed back?" she asked.
"Why bless ye, Prue, I'll kiss ye now, 'thout yer havin' ter go away," and she did, much to Prue's delight.
Arrived at the house, Prue exhibited her doll dressed in all her finery, Tabby decorated with a gay ribbon, and was about to drag Randy out to the barn that she might see the new railroad which ran through the pasture lot, when Mrs. Weston suggested that the railroad would be there in the morning and that as Randy had been riding all day it would be far better to wait until the next day to see it.
So little Prue sat beside Randy and listened to all which she had to tell with the greatest interest.
"Oh, I wish Johnny Buffum was here to hear all 'bout Boston," sighed Prue, "then he'd know what a big girl my Randy is," and the little girl wondered why they laughed.
At tea she led Randy to the table and exclaimed,
"There, didn't I say the cake had pink frosting onto it?" and Randy agreed that it was indeed pink and that it looked very tempting.
Mrs. Weston and Aunt Prudence had arranged a fine little spread, composed of Randy's favorite dishes and as she looked at the dear faces around the table, she knew that she could not be happier at the grandest feast, though it were given in her honor in palatial halls.
* * * * *
"Randy is here, Randy is here!" It seemed as if each person as soon as he learned the news, repeated it to his neighbor, and that neighbor repeated it to the next person whom he chanced to meet on the road, and soon the entire village knew that Randy was once more at home.
Prue followed her about as if she feared to lose sight of her, and promised to recite an endless number of lessons to Randy if only she might be permitted to stay out of school.
"I can't go to school and not see my Randy all day. I don't want to be anywhere where my Randy isn't." Prue pleaded so earnestly that at last Mr. Weston said,
"It is so near the end er the term, why not let her stay at home, mother?"
Even Aunt Prudence interceded for her, and Prue's joy was unbounded when she was told that she might consider that her vacation had commenced.
The day after Randy's return was bright and sunny, and with little Prue she wandered beneath the sweet scented apple blossoms drinking in their beauty, and wondering if in all the world there was a fairer place than the orchard with its wealth of bloom, when suddenly Prue exclaimed,
"You're 'most as glad to see me as anybody, Randy?
"Me 'n Tabby is just 'special glad you've got home." The little eyes looked anxiously up into Randy's face.
"You precious little sister," Randy answered, "I've been longing all winter to see you, and when I have sat before the fire with Miss Dayton on a stormy afternoon I have wished that Tabby with her paws tucked in, sat blinking at the flames. There is no one, Prue, whom I am more truly glad to see than you."
While Randy and Prue were in the orchard, Mrs. Hodgkins "ran in fer a chat," as she expressed it.
"Wal, I hear tell that Randy's come back. What's she goin' ter do next year, er don't she know yet? Did ye know't I had comp'ny?" She continued, asking a second question without awaiting an answer to the first.
"Wal, I have got comp'ny, and comp'ny she means ter be considered.
"It's Mis' C. Barnard Boardman, as she calls herself; she's Sabriny Brimblecom that was, an' a pretty time I'm havin' with her. She's delicate, or she thinks she is, an' I'm 'baout wild with her notions 'baout food, and her talkin' of 'zileratin' air, whatever that may be.
"She can't lift her finger ter help me, an' the ruffles an' furbelows I have ter iron fer her makes me bile, while she sets aout in the door-yard a rockin' back'ards an' for'ards as cool as a cucumber. She ain't goin' ter stay but a week longer with us, an' then she goes ter stay with her brother Jabez, an' land knows, I pity Mis' Brimblecom, fer Sabriny says she's goin' ter stay the whole summer. She's what ye might call savin', fer she's savin' her board, an' when she left the Brimblecom's the last time she spent the summer with 'em, she put a little package in Mis' Brimblecom's hand just as she went aout the door, 'Jest a little gift in return for your kindness,' said Sabriny, in her lofty way.
"After she was gone Mis' Brimblecom opened the parcel an' she an' Jabez just looked at each other, an' didn't speak. Sabriny's gift was a wire tea strainer! Barnes sells 'em fer ten cents daown ter the store."
"I should try, in some way, that she'd understand, ter make her realize that her room was better'n her company," said Aunt Prudence.
"You think you would," said Mrs. Weston, "but you've a kind heart, an' while you'd feel like tellin' her ter go, you wouldn't do it."
"Mis' Brimblecom's one er the best women that ever lived, an' it's provokin' fer her ter be pestered with Sabriny," declared Mrs. Hodgkins.
"Wal, I must be goin'," and away she went, stopping on the way to greet Randy who stood by the wall upon which sat Prue and Tabby.
Long after Mrs. Hodgkins had left them, Randy and Prue sat under the shadow of the blossoming branches, and it seemed to Randy that little Prue had grown more lovely in face and figure. Her curls were longer, and her sweet eyes darker, her hair had kept its sunny hue, and her coloring was wonderfully like that of the apple blossoms.
Prue was quite unaware of Randy's loving scrutiny, and she caressed Tabby, humming contentedly, and looking about at the sunlight, the blossoms and the butterflies. Suddenly she pointed down the road exclaiming,
"Look, Randy, look! See old Mr. Simpkins coming this way."
As he espied Randy he hastened toward her.
"Glad ter see ye, glad ter see ye, Randy. Ye're lookin' fine. Haow be ye, an' haow's Boston?"
Randy assured him that the city seemed to be intact when she left it, but he did not hear.
"I expect ye haven't heared that Timotheus is a lit'rary feller naow, doin' farm work only 'casionally, so ter speak.
"Oh, ye did hear?" he questioned as Randy nodded assent.
"Wal, he's a feelin' pooty big over his two dollars, but he's kind er riled with the editor man fer thinkin' his writin' that he writ was funny. Timotheus has fixed the attic fer a room ter stay in when he's a writin', an' there he stays, day in, 'n day aout, a workin' away at his literatoor. It's odd haow boys in one family will hev different idees. Naow Joel likes store work best. Wal, here's some er the boys and girls a comin' ter see ye, so I'll be goin' along."
A laughing troop came hurrying along the road, and they hailed Randy with shouts of delight when they espied her sitting upon the wall with Prue. As they crowded about her, plying her with questions, Randy tried to answer them all promptly, but gave it up with a laugh, exclaiming,
"Oh, I'm glad to be with you all, and am pleased that you came over this morning to see me. Sit down upon the wall and tell me all the news, and I will try to answer all your questions."
They seated themselves, a merry, laughing row, upon the wall; the Babson girls, Dot and Jack Marvin, Jotham, the Langham twins, Reuben Jenks, Mollie Wilson, Phoebe Small and even Sandy McLeod's little Janie, and gaily they chattered, the petals of the apple-blossoms falling about them, a perfumed shower.
Randy's home coming had indeed been a glad one, and in "Randy and Prue" one may learn more of Randy's sunny nature, and of the little sister's winsome ways.